Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Last Days Here, A Woman is a Woman, Hot Rod

Last Days Here, by Don Argott and Demian Fenton, 2011

So Pentagram was apparently an underground heavy metal band formed in the early 1970's. They were never signed on a major label, and mainly found an audience through bootleg recordings. I don't know a thing about heavy metal, really, but that these guys influenced an entire genre without releasing anything is pretty amazing. They never really went away, either. For the past 40 years, they sporadically reformed under numerous different lineups, always led by frontman Bobby Liebling.

Liebling is not just the glue that binds Pentagram together, however. It's safe to say he's also the reason they never stay together. In his 50's, addicted to crack (among other drugs), emotionally immature, and still living in his parents' basement, the guy is a mess. Last Days Here is a documentary about Liebling, in which his manager, Sean Pelletier, tries to get Bobby cleaned up and reunite the original members of Pentagram.

Last Days Here is pretty sad, but entertaining, too. We learn that Pentagram couldn't even get themselves together in the 70's, when members of Kiss came to their place to check them out. It could have been their big break, but it didn't work out. Liebling does give an honest go at quitting the drugs cold turkey, and even gets a girlfriend and moves out of his parents' house, but things go south when he freaks her out and she dumps him. He relapses and winds up getting a restraining order put on him.

Pelletier persists, though. He really wants this reunion to work out, and there is a kind of triumph when Pentagram is up on stage together at the end. There's even some hope for Bobby Liebling. It was nice to see this kind of documentary actually be pretty upbeat at the end. I hope the guy is still doing alright.

A Woman is a Woman (Une Femme est une Femme)
, by Jean-Luc Godard, 1961

Not that long ago, I watched Godard's debut film, Breathless. I can totally see why it's so highly praised, it's a great movie, and groundbreaking, to boot. And as much as I liked Breathless, I liked his next film, A Woman is a Woman even more. It may not be the superior film of the two (who am I to say?), but it's much more my kind of thing.

A Woman is a Woman is a comedy about relationships and sex, starring Anna Karina as Angela, a strip-tease artist who suddenly decides she wants a baby. When her boyfriend Emile (Jean-Claude Brialy) balks at this, they engage in a battle of wills, until his best friend Alfred (Jean-Paul Belmondo of Breathless) offers to impregnate her in his stead.

Why do I like it better? I just liked the way it feels. It's wacky and sexy and colorful. Godard shows off his playful side much more in this than the other two of his films I've seen, though there are certainly playful moments in both Breathless and Alphaville. Godard continues his experimentation with editing and sound design here, too. I loved the way the score would abruptly stop to make room for a line of dialogue or a sound effect, only to start right back up again. And it's even self-referential. The characters often look directly at the camera and smile knowingly at the end of a shot. At one point, a character says something like "I have to go, Breathless is on TV", and they also joke about Francois Truffaut's films Shoot the Piano Player and Jules and Jim.

A Woman is a Woman is my favorite Godard film yet. I hope he has other films along these lines. You should probably watch Breathless because it's great and important and it's a fun movie, too, but A Woman is a Woman is just pure smiles.

Hot Rod, by Akiva Schaffer, 2007

OK, while Hot Rod is no Jean-Luc Godard film, I found myself pleasantly surprised by it. It's just a dumb little comedy that seems pretty heavily inspired by those first couple Adam Sandler movies I used to watch over and over again when I was 14. But that works for me. I laughed a bit, and mostly chuckled, and I enjoyed it from beginning to end.

Saturday Night Live's Andy Samberg plays "Hot" Rod Kimble, a hopeless young wannabe daredevil, who must raise $50,000 to get a heart replacement for his step-father (Ian McShane). He decides to jump 15 buses, one more than the record set by his hero, Evel Knievel. That's it. Simple plot. Lots of silly jokes. It's made by The Lonely Island, the guys who did all the SNL Digital Shorts like Lazy Sunday and D*ck in a Box.

The supporting cast is pretty good here, though some of the talent is underutilized. Samberg's SNL costar Bill Hader, along with Danny McBride stole the show for me as Rod's "crew". Co-writer, MacGruber director, and fellow The Lonely Island guy Jorma Taccone is funny too as Rod's dim half-brother. Chris Parnell has a hilarious bit part, full of funny one liners. Isla Fisher does that thing I usually don't like in guy driven comedies, where she isn't very funny, and pretty much just serves the role of being a girl. But she does it a little differently. Usually in these movies, the girl acts shocked or appalled at the hero's weird, outlandish behavior, but in Hot Rod, she actually seems amused by him from the get-go, and even a little drawn to him. I liked that. Will Arnett has a couple good moments as her jerk boyfriend.

Anyway, Hot Rod is decently funny, and might grow funnier in repeat viewings, or if I had watched it with other people. Watching comedies alone is never as much fun. It seems like the kind of movie I would have gone crazy for in my early teens. It would have fit perfectly in my VHS collection alongside Billy Madison, Happy Gilmore, and Tommy Boy.

1 comment:

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